This year Asian Art in London (AAL), now in its 23rd edition, has decided to split the event into two weeks to reflect the auctions and events in the Indian, Islamic, and East-Asian art worlds. Asian Art Newspaper previews what’s on at the galleries.

Due to the coronavirus pandemic and the uncertainty that this brings to public events, Asian Art in London has also redesigned their website and are using online events, such as masterclasses and panel discussions, to enhance the event. On the website, you will be able to download participants’ catalogues, as well as visit the viewing room specially created for the dealers.

Indian and Islamic Art and East Asian Art Weeks for Asian Art in London

The Indian and Islamic art event is the first to open, from 22 to 31 October, to complement the Indian and Islamic sales that are traditional held in London at this time of year. East Asian Art, encompassing the arts of China, Japan, Korea, as well as Southeast Asian art, follows on, from 29 October to 7 November. This year, dealers and galleries from the UK and the US are showcasing a range of works of art from South, Southeast Asia, Central Asia, China, Japan, Korea, the Himalayas and the Islamic world, dating from antiquity to the contemporary, along with sales and previews of Asian and Islamic art at local and international auction houses. Full information can be found in the dedicated guidebook produced by Asian Art in London,

Late Night Openings for Asian Art in London

Late night openings for Asian Art in London start with Kensington Church Street on 31 October, from 5-9pm. St. James’s on 1 November, and Mayfair on 2 November. Not all galleries participate in these late openings, so refer to the AAL website listings for individual gallery’s details, or check directly with the galleries for up-to-date information nearer the event. In some instances, visits may need to be booked as a timed appointment. The AAL directory includes maps and an events calendar and can be found in members’ galleries, or can be downloaded from their website. Below is a sample of what’s on offer this year.

London Museum Exhibitions during Asian Art in London

The museums are open, but are adhering to coronavirus safety advice along with social distancing. You may also need to book a timed slot in advance. Information and help are available on the museums’ websites. Two main museums in London to reopen are the British Museum and the V&A. Tantra: Enlightenment to Revolution (until 24 January, 2021), is at the British Museum and explores the philosophy centred on the power of divine feminine energy. The main Asian and Islamic galleries are also open and visitors have to follow a prescribed route through the building. At the V&A, Kimono: Kyoto to Catwalk, one of the museum’s major temporary exhibitions is now open again and runs until 25 October. The exhibition presents the kimono as a dynamic and constantly evolving fashion icon, from the 1660s to the present day. Other displays, open at the V&A are Blanc-de-chine (until 18 October) and Cairo Streets (until 31 January 2021). At the V&A, you can book a timed slot using the on-screen calendar on their website found alongside the relevant exhibition/display information.

Kensington Church Street Galleries 

Marchant, Jorge Welsh Works of Art, JAN Fine Art

Three dealers are taking part from the Kensington area this year. Marchant are presenting The Lobl Collection of Chinese Jades. This is Marchant’s 7th jade show, which also celebrates the gallery’s 95th anniversary. The exhibition comprises 36 jade pieces from the private collection of Mr & Mrs Herbert Lobl, amassed over 60 years, predominantly buying from London dealer Louis Joseph and also from Bluett, William Clayton, and Marchant. The collector also bought at Sotheby’s and Christie’s. The catalogue is produced chronologically and where possible Marchant have published the provenance of the pieces.

Highlights include the exhibition cover piece, a nine-dragon brush-washer – an exemplary piece of jade carving. It is both intricate and sophisticated with varied sized dragons writhing and curling through high- relief clouds in pursuit of flaming pearls, above swirling waves. It came from the collection of Sir Desmond Cochrane, Bt and was purchased in London in 1976. The inspiration for this piece is certainly drawn from the massive Yuan-dynasty jade wine vessel at the Round Fort in Beijing.

Another piece, elegant in its simplicity, is a curved pear-shaped ewer with a scroll handle and slightly recessed base. The attractive stone has not been overworked or over-designed in appreciation of the material. The scroll handle indicates use for water or wine and the shape would have probably been inspired by leather water vessels used on the Silk Road – depicted in Tang-dynasty pottery. A catalogue is available. At Jorge Welsh Works of Art, this year’s show explores Chinese Armorial Porcelain from the West. Armorial symbols visually identify either a particular family or a religious, military or national organisation.

The use of these symbols was widespread in Europe by the time Westerners initiated direct trade with China in the 16th century and, as soon as Europeans were able to commission Chinese porcelain with tailored designs, they became an important feature of privately ordered porcelain. Armorial designs – including coats-of-arms, shields, crests, and mottoes – were easily recognisable by their contemporary countrymen, demonstrating allegiance to a leader or a faith, or embodying a very personal connection with landed gentry, political and military leaders.

Jan Fine Art, a participant for the first time this year, is participating in both weeks and is showing Safavid Textiles alongside Oriental Works of Art. The gallery has collected objects from China, Japan, and Korea for their East Asian exhibition and highlights of this show include a Qing-dynasty, 18th-century, Blanc-de-Chine, crane brush-pot from the Dehua kilns in Fujian Province. Also on offer is a Central-Asian silk fragment from the 8th century. The textile has a red, blue, gold and green repeated pattern with green and blue pepper-shaped roundels. Inside the roundels are confronting ceremonial ducks with protruding curled wings on a yellow ground, the birds holding a ribbon with linked pearls in their beak. These floating palmettes are on gold silk ground, against the red background of the main design.

St James’ Galleries 

Joost van den Bergh, Rob Dean Art, Malcolm Fairley, Peter Finer, Oliver Forge & Brendan Lynch, Michael Goedhuis, Grosvenor Gallery, Hanga Ten, Kapoor Galleries, Littleton & Hennessy, Lam & Co UK, Susan Ollemans, Simon Pilling, Priestley & Ferraro, Jacqueline Simcox, Runjeet Singh, Steve Sly Japanese Art, Grace Tsumugi Fine Art

At Joost van den Bergh, there is the first solo presentation of works by Kalu Ram. This forgotten master painter from Jaipur was active from the early 1960s until his death in 2010. The exhibition comprises later works – complex colour studies of intertwining animals and human figures, as well as fantasy paintings without philosophical or religious meaning, but which reflect the artist’s long-standing experience of painting Tantric andJain-inspired work.

Kalu Ram (Kaluram Pancial) was born in Jaipur, the ‘Pink City’ of Rajasthan. Not uncommonly, the actual year of his birth is uncertain, but it is believed to have been in the mid- to late-1940s. His father was a Brahmin, who painted mystical diagrams for religious rites, as well as depictions of intertwining serpents (naga) for sale on the open market. Kalu Ram’s brother was also a professional artist – his three children currently work as painters in Jaipur. The profession of painter has therefore been handed down from father to son for three generations, as is usually the case in India. The majority of paintings shown in this exhibition come from late in Kalu Ram’s career, produced in the years leading up to his death in Jaipur in October 2010.

Alongside this solo presentation, the gallery is also showing a select group of classical objects, highlights being an impressive stone Shiva linga and a brass shrine depicting Umamahesvara. Rob Dean’s Indian art exhibition focuses on Gods, Kings and Courtiers, a particular highlight is the 18th-century painting Raja Jagrup Singh of Jaswan, from Kangra, India. Malcolm Fairley, who specialises in Japanese art, has a selection of Meiji-period works of art, including a koro with cover made by Setsuho Hiedetomo. And Peter Finer, a dealer in arms and armour, is offering a selection a pieces from Tibet, China, Japan and India.

Oliver Forge & Brendan Lynch’s exhibition is Court Art From India, Persia, and Turkey, and comprises 40 miniature paintings and works of art, to give a taste of court life and are offered in different media. Paintings in the show range from the late 16th century to the mid-19th century with highlights including Sher Shah’s Capture of Rohtasgarh Fort in 1538, from the ‘Third’ Akbarnama. Other works of art on offer include Iznik tiles, circa 1575, 17th-century Safavid blue and white pottery, and 18th-century metalwork from India.

Michael Goedhuis is introducing new ink paintings by the Chinese artist Li Chevalier. Brought up during the Cultural Revolution in China, the artist was recruited by the elite Chinese Army Opera Orchestra on account of her musical gifts. This represented a sanctuary on the one hand and a springboard for some freedom on the other – and it enabled her to meet and subsequently marry her husband who was a French diplomat at the embassy in China. Her paintings and installations express, in the use of the brush and Chinese ink, her perception – a very Chinese one – of the impermanence, fluidity and mystery of life’s experience.

At the Grosvenor Gallery, there are new paintings by Bhutanese artist Zimbiri (b 1991), on show in the UK for the first time. Zimbiri is a native of Thimphu, the capital of the Himalayan Kingdom of Bhutan. Her works start with the traditional materials and techniques used in Bhutanese art: sa-tschen (earth paint) and rhay-shing (hand-woven canvas). These impart a ghostly presence to the images that she paints, communicating a sense of fragility, as if these traditions themselves might soon disappear.

Many of her works also employ the technique of tsapa, this is a template of perforations which follow the lines of a drawing and enable it to be transferred on to a wall in order to be replicated and painted. Although Zimbiri’s works start from this traditional Bhutanese foundation, her approach is informed by schools of Western art in the 20th century, namely Minimalism and Colour Field painting. Her paintings are the perfect amalgamation of post-modern and contemporary; combining the local with the global, and the current with the traditional. The body of paintings that have been selected for the show are from Zimbiri’s Tiger series.
Hanga Ten, a gallery that specialises in Japanese prints, is having an exhibition entitled Beauty in Turbulence – Works during Lockdown. During this turbulent time, the gallery’s artists in Japan have continued to produce some of the most beautiful and imaginative works. Hanga Ten’s exhibition focuses on these artists’ newest works created during 2020 year and include works by Daniel Kelly, Katsunori Hamanishi, Nana Shiomi, Kazutoshi Ohtsu and Ray Moirmiura.

The only international participant this year is the Kapoor Galleries from New York, who are presenting
God/Goddess for Asian Art in London. The exhibition features a selection of Indian miniature paintings and small sculptures from India, Nepal, Tibet and Southeast Asia. Highlights from the catalogue (which features their full New York exhibition from March 2020), include an important Indian painting of Chinnamasta, signed by master artist Nainsukh of Guler; a South Indian bronze figure of Parvati from the Vijayanagara period; a 13th/14th-century Pala-style figure of Vajrapani forged in silver; and large Western Tibetan painting of Buddha Shakyamuni and the Thirty-Five Buddhas of Confession from the 15th century.

Littleton & Hennessy and Lam & Co UK both specialise in Chinese works of art, the former are showing Later Chinese Bronzes (catalogue available) and the latter, a new participant for the event, is offering Chinese Works of Art, including early Chinese ceramics. Susan Ollemans is offering Asian Jewels and Jades, from the 9th to 19th Century, including works from China, India, Cambodia, Vietnam, Thailand and Indonesia. Highlights are a group of Indian jades and Mughal jewellery, along with early rings from Central Java and other areas of Southeast Asia.

The Japanese dealer Simon Pilling’s show is called Solace in Nature. The Japanese have long reflected on the relationship between humanity and nature – the fragility of human survival in a country beset by natural disaster. For more than 1,000 years, subjects drawn from nature have been a central design theme in Japanese art. Whether in the highly controlled painstaking medium of natural lacquer, or the unpredictable crucible of the potter’s kiln, artists have harnessed the power of nature to delight and satisfy us.

The artworks in this exhibition invite us to reflect on our own relationship with nature – to experience how human activity can capture nature’s beauty, but also how our actions can distort and diminish nature. Each work results from its artist’s desire to interrogate the natural world and create a moment of profound insight.

Highlights include two lacquer pieces – a circular writing box by Hiiraishi Takashi and a contemporary ornamental box by Arai Etsuko – both epitomise the timeless ability of this technique to capture the essence of natural forms using no colour, delighting our imagination through tons of gold and silver, and shell inlays. In ceramics, two contemporary pieces address nature through vastly contrasting techniques. The first – a delicately executed double-gourd by Yamamoto Ichiyo – celebrates nature through a meticulous process of platinum glaze and coloured enamels. The second – a striking, large vase by Murakoshi Takuma – exploits the natural power of the kiln to create a striking piece. A painting on offer is a collaborative work by 18, early 20th-century, manga artists that records the impact of Japan’s modernisation on the famous Tokaido Highway, which connects Tokyo to Kyoto, creating handscrolls of 55 original images. Catalogue available.

Priestley & Ferraro are showing Chinese and Korean Ceramics and Works of Art in their gallery in St James, a highlight is a Chinese black-glazed stoneware phoenix-pattern pilgrim flask from the Sui dynasty (581-618) or early Tang dynasty (618-906). Jacqueline Simcox, as usual, is showing a select offering of Chinese textiles and has produced an online catalogue for the event.

Runjeet Singh is featuring a broad selection of Asian arms and armour for the London event this year, bringing over 40 new items to the market along with existing pieces. Steve Sly Japanese Art, another newcomer to the event, is having an exhibition entitled 2020 Vision of an Enlightened Ruler, featuring Japanese works of art from the Meiji period. Catalogue available. Also showing Japanese work of art is Grace Tsumugi Fine Art, who is focusing on recent acquisitions, including metalwork, lacquer, inro, cloisonné enamel, ceramics, paintings, plus a selection of textiles.

Mayfair Galleries

Berwald Oriental Art, Eskenazi Ltd

Eskenazi Ltd is not holding a themed exhibition this year, instead the gallery is showing a variety of Chinese works of art from different periods, ranging from Shang-dynasty bone carvings to Imperial Qing-dynasty porcelains. A highlight is a gilt-bronze figure of a 12th-century Guanyin, from the Dali Kingdom. Berwald, also a specialist in Chinese works of art, is holding an exhibition of recent acquisitions at the permanent gallery in Mayfair.

By Appointment Galleries 

John Eskenazi

John Eskenazi is participating again in Asian Art in London by appointment only. Showing a selection of sculptures from India, Gandhara, Southeast Asia and the Himalayas. This year’s highlights include a Vishnu torso, showing a combination of royal magnificence and divine authority from what must have been a truly magnificent statue of Vishnu. It emanates from the Gandharan region, previously better known for its Buddhist sculptures, and dates from a period of Hindu rule from which few works of art survive.

Other works include a frieze depicting events following the Buddha’s Parinirvana, Gandhara, late 1st/early 2nd century. Following the Buddha’s Parinirvana, his body was entrusted to the local inhabitants of Kushinagara.  They honoured it with their own funeral rites prior to cremation.  This rare and early frieze is a depiction of the event. And a stele depicting Avalokiteshvara, Eastern India, Bihar, from the early 11th century.